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Rothenburg ob der Tauber means “red fortress above the Tauber”.  The Tauber (Celtic word for water) is a tributary of the Main River and is 131 Km long.  I’m afraid that by the time the Tauber River gets to Rothenburg it gurgles less than a rivulet.  Perhaps in 950 when the Count of Comburg-Rothenburg established a weir system (small overflow dams to raise the level of a river or stream) for his gardens it had more of a presence.

Tauber River at Rothenburg

View of Double Bridge with Rothenburg in the background

Geographically Rothenburg is located in the Middle Franconia region of Bavaria, a linguistic region of exceptional ‘r’ rolling.  Ubiquitous rolling green hills, tile roofed dwellings tucked or clustered here and there, radwegs and wanderwegs abound.  Rothenburg is one of the major attractions along Germany’s tourist favoured Romantic Road.

Although there was habitation in the area Rothenburg was not officially founded until the year 1170. In 1274, it was granted Imperial Free City status, which meant that it was ruled by the Emperor only (and had the privilege of paying taxes only to the Emperor) and not by one of the plethora of princes in Germany.    With the building of the Protestant Lutheran Cathedral of St. Jakob’s (1311-1484), Rothenburg ob der Tauber became an important site for pilgrimage on the Way of St. James (end point – Cathedral of Santiago De Compostela in Spain).

Oldest house, now a pub - foundation dates from 900

St. Jakob’s is important not because it is bigger than all the other churches but, because it has the very treasured Helig Blut (Holy blood) relic – a drop of Christ’s blood.

During this time Rothenburg, with a population of about 5,500 within the walls, was one of the 20 largest cities in the Holy Roman Empire.  Today, its population of 11,053 (Dec. 31/09) is not a whole lot greater likely because the residents keenly keep development out.

Market Square

Over the next few centuries Rothenburg flourished, but due to bad weather, took a serious nose dive in October of 1631, during the Thirty Years War.  The Catholic Count of Tilly and his 40,000 men had been marching for several days in very wet weather when someone spied with their little eye Rothenburg in the distance.  The Count decided that Rothenburg would be a good place to rest up and dry off.  The

Medieval Festival - sword play

Medieval Festival - random marching

Protestant citizens decided otherwise.    A siege ensued …well you can guess the outcome.  By the end of that winter in 1631 the town was poor and nearly empty.
In 1634 the Black Death reduced the remaining population even further.  Rothenburg was well on its way into the abyss of obscurity when in the 1880s, “Romantic” artists “discovered” the wonderfully preserved medieval town (everything had pretty much come to a halt during the 1600s) and tourism was born.

Medieval Festival - Dancing

It was the unlikely combination of tourism and foggy weather that saved Rothenburg from complete destruction during WWII.  On March 31, 1945, 16 planes dropped bombs over Rothenburg, but since it was a foggy night they largely missed – although 39 people were killed, several buildings, 9 watchtowers (Rothenburg has a lot of towers) and 2000 feet of the Wall were destroyed.

Medieval Festival - Woodturners Guild

Tourism came into play when the U.S. Assistant Secretary of War got wind of the plan to destroy the city.   His mother had been a tourist in love with Rothenburg many years previously and he often heard how wonderful the city was.  He ordered no further artillery attacks on the city.   At the same time the local military commander, who was quite fond of Rothenburg and could also see the writing on the wall, ignored Hitler’s order for all towns to fight to the end.  He agreed to make himself and his troops scarce and the Americans peacefully occupied the city on April 17, 1945.

Medieval Festival - Guild set up on Main street

Rothenburg is a religious city.  Grüß Gott (short for “es grüß dich Gott” = May God greet/bless you) is the standard greeting or farewell, whether answering the phone or from a passer-by on the street, but the sentiment is neither sticky nor insincere.

There are numerous churches in the city and the largest of these is St. Jakob’s (St. James) of the drop of blood fame.  St. Jakob’s is also the official starting point of several pilgrimages.  I did not go into this church except to buy the wee Pilger guidebook.  I have found that large  churches tend to be impersonal.  The smaller churches are more to my taste. Not nearly as fancy, but a cozy welcome guaranteed, having said that, I will be spending Christmas in Rothenburg, and will visit the Cathedral at that time.  There are a number of very interesting things to see within.  I read about them after I had left Rothenburg.

Medieval Festival - viking

The only church I did go into was St. Johannis Kirche (St. John’s Church).  A Catholic church first established in about 1200 and restored and renovated several times since then.  It has the most interesting Crucifix I’ve seen.   According to the information pamphlet – “the crucifix is carved out of willow and silver plated:  The crucified goes beyond the Cross and overcomes death.”   This church breathes quiet respect and receives it in turn.

St. Johannis Crucifix detail

I am not the religious sort, but I was lonely at the time and spent about an hour there.   Kind of funny, isn’t it?  A non-religious, but spiritual, baptized, but never confirmed Lutheran taking comfort in a Catholic church.  There were about a dozen of us, ranging in age from mid-teens to 80, all sitting quietly contemplating, although some were dabbing eyes and noses.  I hope everyone received what they needed, I know I did.

Skit - getting dunked

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is without doubt heavily indebted to tourism, but somehow it has retained its charm and the residents their friendliness.  About 2.5 million folk
(mostly American and Japanese) a year ogle Rothenburg’s considerable charms.  I had timed my arrival in Rothenburg purposefully so that I could take part in the medieval festivities held the first weekend in September.   Rothenburg, as I mentioned, was granted Imperial Free City status in 1274.  700 years later in 1974, the citizens decided to celebrate that status again – took a while to recuperate from the first party, I guess.

Medieval Festival - Beer garden

Things worked out so well with that 2ndcelebration in 1974, that the town decided to hold one every year.

Medieval Festival - waiting for the procession

The market square and the main street are closed off to traffic.  In addition, several sections of the main street are roped off for use by the  townspeople to set up living displays of various guilds.  The weekend is launched Friday night with a torchlight procession of about 1100 medieval costumed residents.  After the procession reaches the Town Hall (located in the market square) there are two speeches – mercifully short, but you have to listen to them in 3 languages – German, English and Japanese (Rothenburg has a Japanese sister city). Fireworks in front of the Town Hall cap off the opening ceremonies and are repeated on Saturday night outside the city wall as well.

Market Square - waiting for fireworks

Throughout the weekend townsfolk (those that like dress up) wander around and pose for photos attired in costumes of their choice (this is
actually an interesting study in personality too).  There are skits, dancing, music and other demonstrations but other than being passive viewers “outsiders” don’t really participate except at the beer garden (of course!).  Still it is good fun and interesting.   A good imagination (or enough beer) can have you almost believing that you are back in the 1600s, until a medieval garbed lass whips out her cell phone sending that fey notion on its way. Festivities come to a quiet end sometime in the afternoon on Sunday and by Monday the cars are back.

Should you have a chance to travel to Rothenburg, and I strongly suggest that you do, and if you make it more than a day trip, I highly recommend staying at the Pension Elke.   Pension Elke is right in the old town, great for sightseeing, shopping and sampling the many fine restaurants in the area.  The rooms are clean, comfortable, quiet and reasonably priced.  Wireless is available, but a public computer is provided as well.   Breakfast is substantial and varied.  And, Klaus, the proprietor, is warmly welcoming and exceptionally helpful.  He and his father jog every morning, before breakfast, around the town wall.  Guests are welcome to join.  I’m told it takes about 30 minutes.

View from my room at the Pension Elke

Pension Elke

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is my favourite city to date even though I was by turns euphoric and melancholic there.   I like the size, the people, the geographic area, the history, and the vision.  It is also special to me for another reason.  There is a quote by Lao Tzu a Chinese philosopher of 1st Century BCE.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins by finding your shoes”.  It was in Rothenburg that I “found my shoes” – the start of my solo travel and the tremendous experiences following.




Altendiez, is a Dorf (village) with a population of 2,246 (Dec. 31, 2009). It seems to have fallen under the “state reorganization hammer” at least a couple of times, but since 1949, has been a part of the Federal State of Rhineland-Palatinate (or Rheinland-Pfalz).

Area around Altendiez - Diez in background

While archaeological finds, dating to the Upper Palaeolithic (10,000 BCE), have been found in caves in the area the first reference to Altendiez is recorded in 790.
In 1285 it became distinguished from Diez, which I am assuming is the “new” Diez as Altendiez means “old Diez”.  Diez, by the way has a population of almost 11,000 and is located a mere two kilometres away.  Travel 10 kilometres more and you get to the nearest large centre, Limburg, with a population of about 33,000.   It was from Limburg that we caught the high speed IC/ICE trains.

Aside about the trains.  The ICE (which stands for Inter City Express) can reach speeds of 316km/hr.  I was in one that travelled comfortably at 270km/hr – the handy onboard computer information screen told me so.  However, at those speeds the sound when they come through a station (one they aren’t stopping at that is) – you cannot prepare yourself for it.  It is an intense rumbling roar that vibrates up into your feet, through your body and painfully assaults your ears on exiting. Thankfully, it lasts only a breath and a half and it’s gone.

Frankfurt Airport Station - 175 years of train travel

I actually don’t care to travel by IC/ICE as they are so fast you barely have time to register that you’ve passed by a village let alone catch its name, and if you try to fix on zooming by landscape it just makes your tummy all gookie.  I much preferred the Regional trains as they generally travel at a top speed of 120 km/hr.  I like looking at ungookie countryside.

Another aside:  Have you ever noticed that announcements on loudspeakers anywhere are garbled.  I thought it was just a language barrier, but Germans listening would look around at everyone too for comprehension (you know how you do when you can’t understand something) and shrug their shoulders as well.  The announcements always ended on a friendly note though, by wishing everyone a nice trip.  Of course being nearly impossible to understand and combined with foreign language they could have been warning you not to trip onto the tracks.  Well, if you were so unlucky as to fall into the path of an ICE train I don’t think there would be enough of you left to fill a small sandwich bag – at least not enough all in one place.

Back to Altendiez.
Altendiez, Diez, Limburg and a host of other towns and cities lie within

Diez - typical architecture

the Lahn River Valley.  The Lahn River is almost 246km long and is a right tributary of the Rhine.  The Lahn itself has several tributaries as well.  The river is quite historically fascinating.  While not the whole of the river is suitable for shipping most of it seems to have been.  The Romans used it to supply their forts and settlements and the first significant shipping data indicates that it has been used for shipping since the early 14th century. By the end of the 19thcentury over 300 castles, fortresses and fortified churches were built along the river.  Although, Lahn is thought to be possibly a pre-Germanic name its origin and meaning are unknown.  The name, in its current spelling, dates to 1365.

Diez and Lahn River - view from Castle

The history of these places always gives me a cozy thrill.  The buildings, the rivers, the
area – I always like to imagine what the people were like, what they were doing, etc.

For instance, picture this:  it is the year 49CE and a Roman supply boat is sailing on the Lahn River.  It is on its way to a fortress near what will become the city of Dill (in the year 1107).  It is mid-afternoon, on a crisp sunny day in late September, the boat’s passage stirs up the scent of water lilies, and a river otter slides unnoticed from the bank into the water.

Marcus, a young soldier doesn’t notice any of it.  He and nine others are being sent to replace the loss of seven soldiers in a recent raid by a particularly persistent barbarian tribe, and he has heroic visions tumbling in his head as he polishes his short sword.  Marcus just knows that it will be due to his efforts that the Germanic barbarian tribes will finally bow to Roman rule.  It vaguely troubles him that subjugation is proving nearly impossible.  He’s heard tales from northern Brittanicus that the Celtic tribes are just as fierce in their resistance.

Or…. It is a cold unpleasant day in late March in the year 1380.  Winter isn’t easily letting go its grip on the land and trees are struggling to bud.  Georg worryingly eyes the increasingly thunderous looking sky, and notices that the ducks are taking shelter on shore.  The waves are slapping more vigorously against the small, dangerously overloaded transport boat.  A significant portion of the cargo is fine wool that he had purchased in Bristol; its loss would ruin him.  He alternately frets and prays that the boat will make it to Limburg before the storm breaks.

And, one more!  It is a sultry evening in mid-August, 1793. The air softly caresses the skin and the riotous scents of numerous flowering plants thankfully mask the stink of the river.  Elisabeth is travelling in a pleasure boat to the castle of Graf von Buchen for a pre grape harvest party.  However, she is not at all pleased.  Elisabeth is wearing a dress of the latest fashion with an extra daringly low cut bodice.  Too late she has realized that the slightest bend forward poses a very real risk of revealing far more than intended.  Another of the travelling guests, 17 year old Friederich von Batten, has sussed out Elisabeth’s dilemma.  He, on the other hand, is eagerly anticipating what he hopes is an imminent revelation.

Wasn’t that fun!  Ok, back to Altendiez!

Altendiez - Charli - Lahn River bank in background

Altendiez - Charli - Lahn River bank in background

Charli and I were in Altendiez because that is where she lived during her German exchange from March to May 2009.  Charli was very happy to be back as she is fond of her host family and of the area.   A very lovely geographic area it is too.  Rolling green hills, a fine river, walking and biking trails, generally agreeable weather (not too hot, not too cold), mega history – what more could you ask.

Charli took pleasure in showing me around.  She’s a funny one.  Charli never knew the name of the street she lived on (apparently it isn’t important to know one’s address), but regardless of what route we would take (although it didn’t inspire confidence when she would say “I think if we take this street we will get there”) we always found our way back to the house. I knew I should have taken her on the pilgrimage with me!

Altendiez area - Charli

Although, I had often emailed Charli’s host “parents”, Daniel and Hilla, I had never met them so I was a bit nervous.  I could have saved myself the fretting; right from the start they were warmly welcoming and made me feel comfortable in their home.  Victoria went the “extra mile” and gave up her bedroom to us, and she gave it up again when I returned to them after my pilgrimage.

Even the cat, Lexi, was welcoming, although her brand of welcome left something to be desired.  She had learned to open doors that had a lever handle by jumping at the handle until the door opened.  Since, Lexi often shared Victoria’s bedroom that meant that unless we barricaded the door we would have a vocal night visitor inquiring as to our presence in her domain.

Lexi - the door opening cat - Altendiez

It was low key, but very good to be in a home environment after all the hotels we had been in.  We explored around the area a bit and since school had already begun, Charli was able to spend a day in school with Victoria visiting with chums and some of the

One evening, Hilla took Charli and me to an organ performance at the Limburg Cathedral.  I have to say that organ music is not at all what I gravitate to, but I have never heard the organ played like that!  Incredible. The fellow, who was the cathedral organist, played a few classical pieces and several renditions of Frere Jacques.
Turns out it was his farewell performance as it was his last day as the Limburg Cathedral organist. He had accepted the position of organist at the Speyer Cathedral.  A very prestigious appointment, I’m sure, but in my opinion a step down in cathedrals despite the fact that the Speyer Cathedral is an important one historically as well as presently.  Interestingly, Hilla had the same take on the Speyer Cathedral as I did.  However, I will talk about all that when I get to Speyer in the “timeline” of my journey.

Diez - random statue

Altendiez marked the end of Charli’s European Vacation.  On August 31, I accompanied her to the Frankfurt airport – taking the ICE to the very handy airport train station.  We got her checked in, had a meal, and then it was time to say good-bye, so long, farewell.  No blubbery good-byes for us, just a good hard back thumping hug, and she was off and I was on my own.

Charli - going home - Frankfurt Airport

Charli’s flight back was good and uneventful and she was full of news upon her arrival home where she no doubt received many hard back thumping hugs from relatives and friends.

I remained in Altendiez only a couple more days leaving on September 3 for Rothenburg ob der Tauber – the launching pad for not only my pilgrimage but my solo travel as well.

Health and Happiness,

Anita and Charli

[I have to add a bit here about German spelling.  German, as you may know, has a few extra letters in its alphabet (all the better to make up humongous compound words with), they are the ones with the umlaut (two little dots) over the “ä”, “ö”, and “ü”, and, what I call a funny B “ß”, or as it is called a “sharp s”.   I have been bad in that I have sometimes simply dropped the umlaut.  If that were not bad enough I compounded my grammatical crime by not following the accepted procedure for keyboards without the umlaut letters, or the ß.  What I was supposed to do, in order not to mess with German minds re: pronunciation and spelling, was add an “e” after the umlaut letter.  So, “ä” becomes “ae”, etc.  The funny ß becomes “ss”. There are problems with this as not all “ae”, “oe” and “ue” are former umlaut letters.  Likewise not all “ss” were ß.  For example Füssen is actually spelled with the double “s”- no funnies substituted.  If you are really interested in this you can go on-line and delve to your heart’s content.  This bit is about the extent of my enthusiasm for the subject.   So, I have caved to my “library” conscience for detail and my spurt of grammatical rebellion is at an end.  But, all cause for rebellion is not lost – I refuse to pay money to use a toilet!]


A settlement in Roman times, Füssen’s original name was Foetes or Foetibus from the Latin Fauces meaning “gorge” probably in reference to the Lech River gorge.  Füssen is situated on the banks of the Lech River which is 264 km long and a tributary of the Danube.  Unlike a number of large rivers in Germany the Lech is unnavigable due to its many gravel banks and generally feisty nature.


Füssen was also a significant town located on the Via Claudia Augusta, an important Roman road crossing the Alps and linking the valley of the Po River in Italy with what is now modern Augsburg in southern Germany.  Begun in 15BCE and completed in 47CE, The Via Claudia Augusta has been used for centuries and since the 1990’s,
a 500 km section of it has become a popular cycling/hiking route.  We did see a part of this awesome road, but sadly did not have time to go a wandering along it.

Füssen, with a population of 14,247 (Dec. 2009), is the highest city in Bavaria, only five kilometres from the Austrian border, and splendid high, tree covered mountains abound.  Its Coat of Arms, a triskelion is a strange looking one composed of three legs.  Variations of the triskelion have been used as far back as Neolithic times. The Canadian Participaction symbol is a triskelion.

Street view from room balcony

One of the major draws to Füssen is “mad” King Ludwig II’s castle Neuschwanstein.  Neither Neuschwanstein nor Hohenschwangau (Ludwig’s boyhood castle) are located in Füssen but in the nearby town of Schwangau.  To make things somewhat more interesting (or not) Hohenschwangau Castle is in Schwangau and Neuschwanstein Castle is in Hohenschwangau a village of same name as the castle.  It gets even more
convoluted, but I don’t want to get too mind bendy.

Hohenschwangau and area

We were in Füssen because we wanted to see Neuschwanstein (means new swan stone – Ludwig was mad for swans).  I won’t go into details about Neuschwanstein or Ludwig II even though the story is quite interesting.  However, this “fairy tale” castle (one that Walt Disney modelled Disneyland castle on) was not the first that King Ludwig II commissioned/built nor was it going to be the most fantastical.  Plans for Falkenstein drawn up in 1885, show that it was going to exceed the “fairy” exuberance of Neuschwanstein.


Ludwig II loved the Füssen area, but spent very little time in Neuschwanstein.  When he did, weather willing, at night he would sometimes have the servants light all the candles in the castle and then go out to view what must have been a truly marvellous effect from the Marien Bridge, a favoured castle viewing vantage point then and


Charli attempting to get off the Marien Bridge


Neuschwanstein was never completed as Ludwig died under “mysterious” circumstances in 1886.  Did he drown – no water in his lungs and he was an excellent swimmer.  Was he shot – no bullet holes.  Sounds like a cover up case of regicide to me  as he had been deposed by reason of mental incapacity, even though a doctor never examined him, just weeks before his death.  At any rate, completed or not, Neuschwanstein along with his other castles became instant tourist attractions almost
immediately after his demise.  They’ve been raking in the dough ever since.
Neuschwanstein, likely the most popular, attracts about 1.3 million people annually, with up to 6,000 visitors per day in the summer.

I had booked a three day package for two in Füssen which included a stay at a four star hotel for three nights, six meals (total), a small complimentary bottle of champagne and a selection of pastries (yummy, yummy) for each of us for the first night, and tickets to our choice of castle (Neuschwanstein or Hohenschwangau).

I booked this package all by myself directly with the hotel and it was a far better deal compared to our Oberammergau excursion.  If you get a chance to go to Füssen Hotel Kurcafe is a very fine place to stay; great food, excellent staff, very nice rooms, and a fabulous bakery on site.

Partial view of Hotel Kurcafe

It was from the reception staff that I learned about an on-line booking website which I have used several times since.  Very easy to book, booking confirmation is almost instant and best rates are guaranteed.  The site provides a brief description of the hotels and hotels are rated based on the reviews of people who have stayed there, and there is no booking fee.  Great if you want a treat or just don’t want to fuss looking for the cheapest accommodation you can find, especially for just a night or two. It is how I got a two bedroom suite with separate living room and kitchen in the Skene House Hotel – Whitehall in Aberdeen for £60/night, regularly £165/night.  Check it out:

Once again we had superb meals. Here is one of our dinner menus.

Appetizer:  clear
tomato soup with vegetarian tortellini

Entree choices: Tender loin fillet of pork in mushroom cream sauce served with homemade egg noodles; or Tagliatelle “Salmone” with strips of salmon fillet in prosecco sauce; or Baked Emmentaler cheese with lingonberries and farmhouse bread.  Salad served with all the above.

Dessert: slice of Sissi cake (a chocolate confection).

Food figured as a major element in our excursions lately.  Do you know the book Eat, Pray, Love?    Well, I can say I ate my way through Germany (not quite done yet), prayed I wouldn’t gain weight (so far so good) and loved every minute of it.

On the topic of food, for some reason every time we used the stairs to get from our room to the restaurant we ended up in the kitchen.  On the last day, Charli did figure out why.  We consistently took a wrong turning through another set of doors.

Other than going to Neuschwanstein we didn’t do much except explore the town.  It was nice just to relax for three days after our travel flurry over the past few days.  Weather was even decent in that it did not rain the entire time we were there.

Charlie and water fountain pillars

I did buy some funky clothes for Charli as she had to have suitable attire to go with her stylin booties which we had purchased in Scotland.  We also went to see a movie dubbed into German, of course.  It was a dance movie, so little dialogue and lots of action – if you can call a “dance off” action.

Charli's new boots

Going to a movie in Germany was an experience I hadn’t had before, although Charli had when she was on her exchange.  In Germany (and in Scotland as I was to discover later) you reserve your theatre seat in advance or right as you purchase your ticket. There are helpful seating charts to encourage a decision. This seemed a very strange concept being accustomed as I am to the general stampede of movie seat choosing in Canada.  There is merit to the system, but in some ways it seems just one more thing that you are regulated into doing.

Water fountain statues - town square - note statue of girl reading on wall

Charli and I came away very impressed with Füssen.  The town is an easy walking size, and there is a lot on offer (swimming, hiking, biking, etc.) in the area besides the Castles.


Anita and Charli

Charli in the Frame.

Innsbruck, the capital city of the Federal State of Tyrol in Western Austria, was first settled in the Stone Age and there are indications that it has been populated continuously ever since.  Today, 119,249 (Jan. 1, 2010) people call it home. The city name comes from German and means “bridge over the Inn.”
At 500 km long the Inn River is a well travelled one flowing through three countries.
It begins its journey in the Swiss Alps, makes its way into Austria cutting through the centre of Innsbruck as it goes, and ends up as the right tributary of the Danube in Germany.

Market Square across the street from the Altstadt

Known for winter sporting events, Innsbruck has hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics, the 1984 and 1988 Winter Paralympics and will host the  first Winter Youth Olympics in 2012.

During the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-1815, the state of Tyrol was briefly ceded to Bavaria.   That explains the provenance confusion over one type of soup which Charli and I sampled while in Innsbruck.  We also had this soup in Oberammergau and were told it was a typical Bavarian dish.  In Austria it became a typical Tyrolean dish, and when I was in Möckmühl, it was a typical Schwäbisch dish.  So, since Schwäbisch is a dialect spoken in Bavaria, and Tyrol was once part of Bavaria (long enough to claim ownership of the soup), it is actually a Bavarian dish.  Mystery of the Soup solved!!

What is this fought over soup, you ask?  Generally a plain broth (beef or chicken) with very thin, flat strips of crepe/pancake added to it.  Sounds unappetizing and looks dodgy, but is quite good.


If you ever have occasion to stay in Innsbruck I would highly recommend the Hotel Weisses Kreuz, an inn/hotel since 1465.  It is centrally located in the Altstadt (old town) which is pedestrian only (except for taxis). Mozart stayed there for a few days with his parents when he was 13.  The rooms are fairly small, but very clean and comfortable.  The staff was probably the best we had come across in our travels so far – professional, courteous, friendly, very helpful, and multi-lingual.   A generous and excellent breakfast is included in the room rate, and internet access is free, but can be iffy in the rooms because of the very thick walls.  Unlike many old hotels it actually has an elevator, although I’m sure it does not date to 1465.

Charli and I went to Austria because Charli had done a project which incorporated information about the Swarovski Crystal Museum.

Swarovski Crystal Museum entrance

The Museum  is well worth going to, but in the summer be prepared for long line-ups.  Beware the gift shop.  Faced with all those shiny baubles (I was a crow in a former lifetime) resistance was futile and I was soon parted from my money.

What it's like to be inside a crystal

We were in Innsbruck only for 2 nights so didn’t get to do too much more than explore the Altstadt, see the Crystal Museum, and take a cable car up the mountain.

Now, that was something.

Stationn for mountain tram

The cable car from Innsbruck takes you up to one of the mountains which are part of the Nordkette (a ring of mountains). Once up there you can go hiking on any number of trails, but be prepared it is very high up and the weather changes quickly. Bring a jacket for sure, it may be summer down below, but it is quite cool and windy up the mountain.

There are three legs to the cable car journey, one takes you to the Alpine Zoo and a restaurant, the second takes you to an informal restaurant.  From this second exit point numerous mountain bike trails are also accessible.  You travel quite a distance up, but it is bearable, and even with my aversion to heights I could look down once in awhile to admire the view.  The third leg, however, is very steep – going almost straight up the side of the mountain so it seems.

View of Innsbruck from Second Station

Despite Charli’s rapturous exclamations, I steadfastly ignored anything except the mountain face directly ahead of me, only once turning my head to suggest that it might not be a good idea for her to lean against the door on the downside end of the cable car.

Mountain Views

I was inordinately pleased with myself though, as I noticed that several people that had come up the first two legs would not go on this one.  In fact during the first leg there was a big thump. I immediately thought “eeeee….the cable broke and is hanging by a thread….we’re all going to die!” All heads swivelled to the back (origin of the sound) and we saw that a woman had collapsed. What a relief that was for me; no catapulting down the mountainside this time.   Poor gal though, she spent the rest of the cable journey on her knees clinging to a pole, and I wouldn’t doubt that her companions probably had to hog tie her to get her in the cable car for the journey back down.  She had come onboard with several Italians, so there was a lot of voluble conversation and much back rubbing going on (her back that is).  The rest of the group, German and English, took stock of the situation and went back to admiring the increasingly distant city view.

Sun and Moon dancing - Swarovski Crystal Museum

While we were in Innsbruck we were surprised by the amount of Italian that we heard.  Several times we caught ourselves wondering if we hadn’t taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Italy.  The other thing that caused me momentary confusion was that everything was Tyrol and/or Tyrolean with very little reference to Austria.  Thankfully, I hadn’t yet gone on my alternate-route-finding pilgrimage, or I would have thought that I had really outdone myself.

Crystal jellyfish

We found only one annoying thing about our trip to Innsbruck and it was one that we had already run across in our travels in Germany, but obviously hadn’t adjusted to!  It was the closures.  Despite it being tourist season, shops closed between 12 and 2PM or 1PM and 3PM and closed for the day by 6PM.  Cafes were open, but if you wanted a fancier sit down meal you had to wait until 6PM when the restaurants opened again for the day as they generally closed by 2PM after the noon rush.

All in all, Innsbruck is definitely worth visiting, no matter what the season.


Anita and Charli

Detail of building

The village of Oberammergau (population of about 5200) has a history going back to Roman times and has had a parish church since the 12th century; however, it only became incorporated in 1818.  It is located in the Ammergau Valley of Bavaria in the German Alps about 100 km south of Munich and lies very near the Austrian border.   Surrounded by mountains, forests, and lakes, Oberammergau and area is a four season playground with something to please most.  Nearby Garmisch-Partenkirchen is hosting the 2011 World Cup Ski Championships on its stunning new Olympic ski jump built in 2008.  I really do mean stunning.  It is a work of art with a practical function – check out photos on-line, although it is hard to find some that do it justice.

Passion Play theatre - the stage is open to the elements, but the Play goes on regardless of weather

Oberammergau is best known for its Passion Play, The Bavarian State Woodcarving School (and woodcarving, of course) and the NATO School (located there since 1953).

Passion Play Theatre - Rear

The only reason for my going to Oberammergau was the Passion Play.  Passion Plays were common during the 16th and 17th centuries, but Oberammergau’s is the only one to have gone the distance.  2010 marked the 41st performance.

In the early 17th century, Oberammergau had remained untouched by the plague, mainly due to its isolation.  The Village Council decided to keep it that way and guards were posted to keep people in or out as the case might be.   However, it was all for naught, in 1632, a man who had been working outside the village snuck past the village guards to visit family.  He brought with him the plague.
By July 1633 the desperate surviving townspeople vowed that if God would
spare them further deaths they would perform a Passion Play, depicting the last
weeks of Christ’s life, his crucifixion and resurrection, every ten years.  Apparently, from that day on there were no more deaths.  The first Passion Play was performed in 1634 and has continued with only a few interruptions (World Wars) since then.  In 1680 it was decided to have the Play in years ending in zero, and in 1934 and again in 1984 there were special anniversary performances – 300 and 350 years respectively.

Charli perusing Play book

This year, of the 5200 residents of Oberammergau about 2500 were involved in the play in some capacity.  The cast alone numbered close to 1100 people, with about 200 being children, and 50 animals.  This year was also the first that had Muslim children in the play as well as camels (two, a momma and her baby – they were both quite unperturbed), a horse and birds.  Only those born in the village of Oberammergau are allowed to be a part of the production.  Not sure if that applies to the animals but it does for the people.

Our arrival in Oberammergau began on a sour note leaving me unsettled and maybe that has coloured my perceptions.  Anticipated ETA was pushed back by 2 hours,  one hour in Stuttgart due to some instrument failure on the train (which meant setting up new connections), and one hour because the train personnel decided, after an hour or so of travel, that a 10 minute smoke break was in order.  That 10 minutes cost us another hour as we missed our new connection by 10 minutes!  Grrrr…. I wasn’t as relaxed about train travel then as I am now, partly because I was responsible for getting Charli here and there, but also because I didn’t realize then that there are several times a day that trains will travel to the same locale.

The “Oberammergau Experience” is very much a “six of one, half a dozen of the other” sort of thing.  On the positive side; the weather was great!  We saw the sun and it was just as fine as we remembered it.  We even went as far as wearing T-shirts and capris!

Our dining mates, Ian and Peter, were a pair of interesting fellows from the Boston area.  Neither of their wives liked travelling so they travelled together.  They were basically on a hiking holiday in Austria and Germany and had the opportunity to take in the Passion Play.  It was Ian who put forward the captivating idea that Jesus was a “fun guy”.

And, speaking of dining – The food was divine!   Here is our dinner selection for the first night:

Charli can legally drink beer in Germany!

Appetizer – Amuse bouche (slice of green melon, thin slice
of smoked bacon and a small piece of fancy bread)

1st course – Potato cream soup

Main course – a choice of one of the following:

  1. Grilled filet of pork with cream sauce served
    with homemade spatzle (noodly thing) and mixed salad.  The salad consisted of:  cold diced potatoes, shredded carrots, shredded cucumbers, peas, diced tomatoes and greens all in separate little piles on the plate and all with individual dressings.  Both Charli and I chose this course selection.  This was before my “pork” experience on my pilgrimage.
  2. Cordon bleu (veal) served with French fries and mixed salad.  As Charli and I object to eating veal we did not choose this.
  3. Roasted filet of Pangasius (cat fish) cream sauce with herbs served with wild rice and mixed salad.  Neither of us was brave enough to give this one a go.
  4. Spinach strudel and mixed salad.  This was a close second choice for me, but Charli had issues with spinach.

Dessert – choice of:

Homemade wildberries parfait with whipped cream.

Fresh fruit.

The portions were huge, but I was determined to stuff it all down to get my monies worth!

Another positive – well the Passion Play comes around every 10 years and it was very special to experience what was likely a once-in-a-lifetime event with Charli.  The music and singing was wonderfully moving and the acting was passionate.  Also, we saw an area of Germany we had not been to before.  It is quite lovely too especially if you like high mountains.

Now, the negatives.

The Oberammergau Passion Play was a package for two (accommodation for 2 nights, 6 meals, admission to the play, a script, and admission to the museum) that I had purchased through a travel agency.  The agency was only one of 3-4 that were selling the packages.  As every other series of previous performances had sold out about a year in advance I was worried that I was already too late, so when I saw them advertised in Octoberish I smacked my money down!  I could have waited another 3 months and saved $400!  In fact, if I would have arranged everything myself I would have saved far more money.  At the barest minimum I figure I was easily overcharged by $1000.  However, at that time I was unwise and unsure about managing all that sort of “stuff”.  Ian and Peter had also purchased the package and were annoyed about the overcharge, but took the attitude that you win some you lose some.  I still haven’t decided if I am going to kick up a little dust and complain.

The irony is that this was a story of Jesus Christ, but then money grabbing is often done in the name of Jesus.   Turns out that the Passion Play did not sell out on all its dates due to the shaky worldwide economy.

In so many ways the commercialization of the Passion Play overshadows anything else that Oberammergau has to offer.  I can’t help but feel that religiosity is a cloying insincere thread that weaves its way through the town.  Everything seems to turn on a religious theme.  For instance – Oberammergau has had a Woodcarver’s Guild since 1563.  Virtually every woodcarving you see is of a religious nature and there are about 120 woodcarvers in Oberammergau all producing pretty much the same.  It seems to be a case of – Gustav has sold a carving of Mary holding Baby Jesus, so 10,002 more of the same every year will  be a good thing.  Surely, after nearly 500 years someone could diversify! Having said that, I did find one fellow that had some other items besides Jesus tortured on the cross and bought a carved rose.

Jesus on the lathe - from Oberammergau Museum

Church bells!  They ring every day, every hour beginning at 6AM and ending at midnight. There are several churches in Oberammergau and not all of them are in sync, so you can imagine the cacophony.   However, that may just be “special” during the run of the Passion Play (May-1st week in October).

As I said the meals at the hotel were exceptional, but you had to pay extra for the drinks –alcohol I can see, but tea, coffee, water – even expected to pay for the bottled water they provide in the room …. come on.

Mini aside.  A LOT of the beverages in Germany are carbonated and that includes bottled water, although you can get it with or without carbonation.  I’ve even seen carbonated apple juice.  It is called Lift.  We were drinking so many carbonated beverages that Charli was afraid she would either blow up or make unseemly noises if anyone gave her a big squeezy hug.

Two of the included things in the package were a script of the play in your language of choice and admission to the museum.  Having the script is great and I can refer back to it, because what they don’t tell you is that most of the latter half of the play is in the dark and you cannot follow along with the script because you can’t see it.  The Play is over 5 hours long.  The first part begins at 10AM, and is 2 ½ hours long, then everyone gets a lengthy break and the play recommences at 8PM.  It was finished by 11PM.

Costume from a previous year's Play - Oberammergau Museum

The museum was fine to go to and having the admission price as part of the package saved us 5 Euros.  Funny thing about me and museums – for all that I love history I don’t care to go into museums.

Kind of creepy clock - Oberammergau Museum

Most are static displays and as a record/depository of artefacts they are essential, but I much prefer wandering around and “feeling” how it was.  Give me a building or, preferably, a ruin to explore any time!

So, like I said “six of one, half of the other”.  If I were to go again I know what I would change.  Still lesson learned and experience gained and that is always a good thing! But, dust kicking is appealing too.


Anita and Charli

View from Philosopher's Walk

View from Philosopher's Walk

The last you heard from me we had made it to Sprockhövel, it was raining, we were feeling isolated, and so on.  So, we decided to take off for Heidelberg.  This was our first trip on the German Bahn (train) system on our own.  It took us more than 3 hours to get to Heidelberg, but it was fine.  Charli’s seat mate was a 21 year old Engineering student from Tokyo.  They chatted the entire time.  Apparently, he was a bit surprised to find out that she was only 17, but, even so they exchanged Facebook addresses.

I’ve noticed that she gets quite a bit of male attention and wondered why even though it is obvious that I am travelling with her, maybe I don’t glower enough?  Charli says it’s because they probably think that she is a travelling companion for her elderly relative.  Oh ha ha ha…..

Charli is fun to travel with. We have a lot of laughs and get along very well. There is just one problem travelling with a teenager.  They like to sleep!   A certain someone gets a bit testy sometimes when she doesn’t get her 10-12 hours in.

Charli - mega beer in grocery store

Charli - mega beer in grocery store

This was the second time I had been to Heidelberg and I liked it just as much as the first, perhaps more so as Charli and I saw more of it.  My feet can attest to that!

Heidelberg is a city with a population of 146,466 (Dec. 2009).  As well as being a hot tourist town (3.5 million visitors a year)  it is also a university town, and about 32,000 students of various nationalities study at the University of Heidelberg which was established in 1386, making it the oldest university in Germany and one of the oldest in Europe.    Although Heidelberg can trace its beginnings to the 5thCentury BCE as a Celtic fortress and place of worship, it is considered to have a “modern” founding date of 1196.  Vestige ruins of the Celtic fortress are still visible.  Heidelberg’s public library was founded in 1421 and is the oldest library in Germany still intact.

Heidelberg University Library

Heidelberg University Library

Charli and I were staying in the “new” section of Heidelberg, but we wanted to see the sights of the old. Who doesn’t?!  We marched around the old town city centre and the 1.8 km of specialty shops on both sides of the narrow main street.  In theory this street is pedestrian only but those who actually live on the street do have vehicles, and taxis seem to be allowed to go anywhere as do the bikes and bikes and bikes.   There are a LOT of bicycles in Heidelberg; even being ridden in buildings.  As it was high season there were masses of people milling around.  Given that the street is quite narrow, maybe 20 feet wide, with buildings, some dating to the 1300’s, of 5-7 stories high on either side it was actually kind of claustrophobic.   We bought a couple of touristy things and then scooted out to a street along the Neckar River’s edge.

Library detail

University Library - detail

Dinosaur in New Town

"Dinosaur" in New Town

The Neckar River, from Celtic “Nikros” meaning wild water or wild fellow, runs through Heidelberg, and at 367 km long is the 10th longest/largest river in Germany.  Several other rivers, including the Jagst and Kocher Rivers feed into it and the Neckar, in turn, flows into the Rhine. It is the 4th largest tributary of the Rhine.  You can take river boat tours, but Charli and I enjoyed sitting on a bench and people watching.

That was when she spotted the Philosopher’s Walk high up on the hill on the other side of the river.   Erroneously thought to be named the Philosopher’s Walk because of philosopher types and others such as Twain, Goethe, Hegel, and Turner who rambled on the Walk in the 1800’s during Germany’s Romantic period, the name actually originates from students of the university who wandered the path in search of enlightenment, or more likely wine.  Many years ago all German university students were required to take philosophy before they specialized, so they were called philosophers.  In those days the path wandered through the vineyards that clung to the side of the hill.  Now, no more vineyards, but you can still see the old walls and stone steps leading in to dense bush.

It hadn’t been MY intent to tackle “the Walk” but Charli said it would be good practice for my pilgrimage.  Couldn’t argue with that so over the old bridge we went, stopping first to take several photos, like everyone else, of a funky monkey statue of questionable delicacy and then up the steep Schlangenweg (snake’s alley) we trudged.

Funky monkey

Funky monkey on the Old Bridge

Well I trudged, puffed and sweated, Charli pretty much merrily skipped along.   Those legs of hers might be short but she can sure motor.   Maybe she should have done the pilgrimage in my name as she sometimes walks up to 25K a day without a huff or a puff. I would at least have lit a candle in her name as penance.  A lit candle would have come in

Charli and the backside of the Funky Monkey

handy too when the farting jogger passed us by.

At one of the blessed rest stops we met a group of three young German women travelling together.  We took photos of them and they took photos of us against the backdrop of Heidelberg.  It was well worth the walk as the views from up there, practically at cloud level, are fabulous.

View from Philosopher's Walk (without castle)

View from Philosopher's Walk (without castle)

As we were in Heidelberg for only the day we never had time to go to the castle. Charli was quite enamoured with the city and its “young” energy and would like to go back and take a German language course for a couple of months.

However, not all was sweet sunshine during our Heidelberg Sojourn.  There were two jarring incidents.   On our walk back to the hotel we stopped for a rest at the main bus terminal, not just for me, Charli also said she had sore feet!  Anyway,  there was some altercation going on in a covered outside waiting area.  A fellow “in his cups” was arguing loudly and often leaning in towards someone and, it seemed, hitting them.  While keeping firm hold of his own bottle he grabbed the other’s and tossed it in the garbage.  The other person never once put up a fuss.  When we went by we were surprised to see several other people in this same shelter and that the person being abused was a slim male in his 60’s or 70’s.

Charli showing how small elevator is

Charli in tiny elevator of the Ibis Hotel

The other incident was during the wee hours at the hotel.  It was a hot sticky night so I was having some trouble sleeping.  I’m used to the dry Okanagan heat and find the muggy heat quite uncomfortable.  One thing though, your skin always feels soft!  At any rate I did not appreciate getting woken up at 2:30AM by two girls who just had to have a shrieking game of hide and seek in the hall.  I was debating about getting up and what language I would use to tell them to kindly stop messing about when a German woman beat me to it.  The girls quickly took off to go outside.  German – definitely the better choice.

Health and Happiness,

Anita and Charli

August 17, 2010

Hello again,

Sprockhövel - Family home

Taking advantage of email availability when I can!  This will just be a short one as Charli is hovering itching to get on Facebook!

We arrived without fanfare in Düsseldorf on Monday, and were greeted by my uncle and his son.  Our flight arrived an hour late and the poor guys had no idea which airline or flight we were coming on.  I had written everything down for my mom, but apparently only the arrival time was the essential piece of information to relay.  However, both uncle and cousin are smart cookies and they figured out that there were only 3 flights arriving at the scheduled time and they knew we were arriving from Edinburgh – so all well in the end!

Sprockhövel - view from my aunt's window

Leaving Scotland it was actually sunny for the whole day!  Too bad we spent most of it either at the airport or flying.  Arrival in Germany – and guess what – it was raining!  To date it hasn´t stopped much.  Urk.  Promises of better weather abound – just as they did in Scotland.   

Sheep as landscapers in a Sprockhövel park

More isolated here in Sprockhövel .  Buses run every hour only and we haven´t figured them out either.  That´s ok we are getting in lots of walking (good practice for my pilgrimage) and visiting (good practice for our German).

Lake near Sprockhövel

It has been great to reconnect with my relatives, and of course, show Charli off (the last time she was here she was only 10), and they have been unfailingly hospitable.  But, because of a number of things;   isolation – my aunties are past driving age and the cousins work, lots of relatives on vacation, weather (maybe we can outrun it?), and my 80 year old aunt gave up her home (she’s staying with a friend) so we could stay here, we’ve decided to cut our time in Sprockhövel short and head to Heidelberg before going on to Oberammergau.

Surfboarder and Swan - lake near Sprockhövel

Depending on internet access at the hotel, I will write more when we get to either Heidelberg or Oberammergau.  I did mention hovering Gidget earlier, so better end off now!

Cheers to all!

Anita and Charli

Hello again,

Thought I would take advantage of the access to email while I can! The B&B folks here have been most accommodating.

I’ve given up trying to read the weather for the day! It changes every 10 minutes, or so it seems. Charli says it is very moody. Quite literally you can be shrugging off your jacket one moment because you are too hot and then scuttling for shelter in the next because the rain is pelting down. Most people here seem resigned to the fickle mercy of the Weather Fates.

Charli's Haggis taste treat

I’ve since learned that most of the buildings are made of sandstone. It starts out a fairly pale beige color but over time and pollution becomes a dirty gray/black.

The bus system continues to amaze us and we can see why they are on time. The drivers will not stop even to wait 2 seconds for some poor sod (English/Scottish vernacular sneaking in) who is making a mad dash to catch the bus. And, if you press that buzzer for a stop you better make sure you are near the door ready to get off or else you’ve just elected to get off at the next stop. For that reason I don’t like to ride at the top of the double-decker. I haven’t managed to lurch down the stairs fast enough yet. Oh well, walking is good!


Grassmarket Street - The Last Drop

Just last night, I was almost taken out by a bus when crossing the street late at night (well 10PM is late for me!). It came so close that Charli asked if I was wearing clean underwear in case a trip to the hospital had been necessary. I can see that my scampering technique needs to be augmented with fleeing skills.

The Underbelly

We’ve explored downtown Edinburgh quite a bit and have been on half of the Royal Mile about 3 times.

Edinburgh - Royal Mile - Charli

Still haven’t been to Edinburgh Castle, but maybe tomorrow. The Fringe Festival is happening now, and we’ve enjoyed several of the street performer shows.

Edinburgh Castle

Fringe posters

There are also a lot of small plays taking place. We heard one person say that if you went to every one it would take you 2 years to see them all. A LOT of people around. Not generally my favorite thing to do – dodging around folks or snailing along behind masses of people – but it is part of the experience. Which I have had enough of now. 🙂

Fringe Festival - Street performers - The Flag

We’ve taken a couple of tours. Mary King’s Close (mainly underground) is worth seeing – gives you an idea of what it was like in the 1600’s. Yesterday, we went on a bus tour to see the Highlands


and Loch Ness. A long day, 12 hours, but gave a really good overview of some of the Highlands area. Tell you the truth – except for being more treeless and having stone manors and castles dotted here and there – a person could believe that they are still in British Columbia.


We also took a boat tour on Loch Ness – alas no beastie was seen – it was probably hiding from the rain!

Search for Nessie

Loch Ness

Today, we are going to head out to see Roslyn Chapel. For those of you that have read “The Da Vinci Code” – this Chapel figures significantly in the book. And, sometime during the day, we’ve got to get some laundry done – need clean underwear – just in case. 😀

That’s it! I don’t know when we can get on the internet again – probably at the hotel in Oberammergau.

Roslyn Chapel

We are heading to Düsseldorf tomorrow, and will likely spend a few days with assorted relatives until our Oberammergau date on the 21st.

Till then!

Anita and Charli

Edinburgh - view of new town

Hello everyone,

Well, after 21 hours of travel we finally made it to Scotland! The glitch at the start of the trip has already become a dim memory in the excitement of exploring a new place!

Our flight was delayed in Kelowna because of an instrument failure in Vancouver which left only one runway operational over there. Consequently, we missed our international connection but were lucky enough to get shifted to a later flight. In the end we arrived in Edinburgh only 4 hours later than expected.

So far so good. Jet lag not a big issue as I managed to catch some sleep on the plane. Charli said I didn’t even snore. She didn’t sleep as much, and being a sleep sucking teenager, has been more tired than I have been.

Edinburgh castle - view from Princes Street

Yesterday, Charli and I got a handle on the bus system (excellent one with buses every 10 min) and explored a couple of the major touristy streets in Edinburgh. Today, although we are having a very leisurely morning, we are hoping to do a couple of tours and revisit a couple of shops. Charli needs a cardigan. We didn’t bring that much in the way of sweaters/jackets as it is supposed to be summer!

Edinburgh - Princes Square

At the moment it is raining even though it started out nice and sunny this morning. The weather is very changeable here so far this month. Like April weather we are told. Yesterday, I don’t know how many times I put my jacket on and then took it off, put the sunglasses on and off, and opened and closed my umbrella. It got downright annoying!

We are in a nice B&B in Corstorphine, about 15 min out of downtown Edinburgh by bus. I constantly mangle the pronunciation of Corstorphine so that it comes out sounding like a Mafia family name. Charli patiently corrects me, although I thought I caught the beginnings of some eye rolling.

The B&B is in a 1904 Edwardian house – 1/2 of the building. Since everything is stone you wouldn’t even know there are neighbours attached. Pretty much all the buildings here are gray stone or brick. No color either unless it is muted creams, beige, or white. Edinburgh does not appear to have any buildings that are over 6-7 floors. Of course, everything is old, old, old. Love it!

The bus system is great here, and most buses are the double deckers. Charli and I both noticed that the bus drivers appear to be pretty aggressive. Pedestrians step lively, even if they are on the crosswalk, when a bus heads their way.

Bicycles, taxis and buses all use the bus lanes. Not a problem for taxis, but cyclists are at a disadvantage. It would appear that to be a cyclist here you need lightning fast reflexes. When that double decker is hovering behind, seemingly about 2 cm away from the bike’s rear tire, those cyclists boot it as soon as the light changes. They peddle like hell to keep in front of the bus hoping the bus gets to its next stop before they get mowed over – or so it seems. Kind of a game, I think.

We were warned by our airport taxi driver to make sure we looked to the right before we crossed the street. He informed us that a lot of North Americans and Europeans get hit because we are used to looking to the left first before crossing. Good advice! A couple of times we nearly got caught. We are honing our scampering technique.

Anyway, that’s it for now. It is 11:25am and I guess we better get our day going! Raining – so no open top bus tour today – at least not right at this hour.

Edinburgh - I-Pod advertisement


Anita and Charli


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